The Kentucky Derby, that is. As in, the famous horse race held down the street from my house each year on the first Saturday of May?
Funny thing about the Derby - I've lived in Louisville for what, 25, 26 years? I've been to the Derby once; two years ago, because my boss gave me tickets to the Grandstands (bleachers). When I lived away from Kentucky, everyone assumed I went to the Derby every year of my life, because, well, I live RIGHT THERE. Not so much... it just never worked out for me.
I was going to go with my loser of a boyfriend in 1999 - I'd been out of high school a year and had done everything in my power to guarantee that I'd have a successful future by hooking up with a dude who had his own apartment and access to weed and booze and then dropping out of college to make sure I could spend as close to my every waking moment as possible hanging on his every gruff word before moving out of my parents house in the middle of an argument with my momma over what time I got out of bed (4 p.m.). Anyhow. We were going to go to Derby that year - my daddy had even given me a $100 bill to cover our admission to the infield. We drove downtown to discover that parking was a million dollars (that $100 was all we had to spend, and infield admission for the both of us was $80), so we turned around and headed back to the East End. We talked about going somewhere with his brother and sister-in-law, but something about leaving town didn't feel right. Sarah (the sister-in-law, still my friend and the best thing that came from my early adult-hood) and I went to the liquor store and got a box of booze - when we got back to the apartment, boyfriend met me outside and told me my momma had called while I was out...her father, my Papaw, had died of a massive heart attack hours before. I wailed, I screamed, I beat bruises into his chest, begging him to stop lying to me.
Any real excitement I'd ever sorta felt toward Derby before that day was pretty much done after that, until my boss offered us tickets out of the blue a few years back. I bought a fancycasual outfit and a fancycasual big floppy hat, and I drank half a dozen mint juleps (bourbon, fresh mint, simple syrup, crushed ice; yes, they're awful, but you get a collectible glass with each one!) and a couple of $8 tallboy Bud Lights, spent a couple hundred bucks on bad bets that didn't pay out. I wore pantyhose under my culottes because it was cool and rainy that morning - by mid-afternoon I was drunk and the sun was out and those pantyhose had to go, so I stood in line for a port-a-pot for half an hour so I could take my hose off. I wish I could tell you I carried them back outside and disposed of them in a properly marked garbage container, but I dropped them into the bowels of the port-a-pot on top of the contents of everyone else's bowels and called it good. And then I drank another Mint Julep. By the time THE race was over, so was I - my new shoes were killing my poor little feets, and I was slipping past the point of fun drunk to tiredIwannagohomeandsleepNOW drunk. So we walked out of Churchill Downs (if memory serves, I was carrying two tallboys for the road) and hopped a rickshaw bicycle for the 5 block ride back to my office where the car was stashed. (Sure, it's five blocks. But parking closer costs like $20 minimum, and this spot was free and behind a locked gate.) The ride back takes us through a residential area, and everyone was out on their porch or in their backyard, grilling, drinking beer, hanging out and enjoying the party-like atmosphere that'd been taking over our city for weeks and was finally reaching culmination. I'm pretty sure I waved and whooped and hollered "HAPPY DERBY!" to each and every one of them, raising my tallboy in salute. When I wasn't staring at the massively heaving muscles in the calves of the rickshaw/bicycle driver, of course. Then we went to Steve's where he presented us with an entire chicken he'd spent the day smoking in his new wood smoker. And I took a nap on his cat-puke-stained carpet. (That carpet's not there anymore and the cat doesn't throw up like that anymore. Thank God.) The end.
Wait, no. I was going to say some other stuff. Like about the first time I realize the Kentucky Derby was something to which people outside of Kentucky, and even outside of horse racing, paid attention. I was 14, and in Florida for the National Drill Team Championships (we won first place in Exhibition Squad, thanks for asking). Our trip was a week long, and happened to end the day after the Derby was run. Sunday morning's Daytona Beach News-Journal front page featured a full-page picture of the horses crossing the finish-line, with the winner's name emblazoned across the headline. "They know about the Kentucky Derby down here?" I innocently inquired. My question was answered with laughter and "Of course! It's only the biggest horse race in the world!" Whoa. Really? Who knew?
These days, the track is located smack dab in the middle between my home and my office. Any doubt I ever held about the size of this event has long since been dispelled - today, two days before the big race, the traffic is jammed and the banner-pullers are flying and the blimp is circling. I'm not going, obviously. Jimi and Steve are brewing beer - which they did back in 2008, the year filly Eight Bells crossed the finish line in second place just as she snapped her ankle, resulting in her having to be euthanized right there on the track. The beer that year was named Eight Bells Glue Brew in her honor, and it was fucking delicious...I should know, Steve still bitches about how I drank 9/10ths of that batch. I'm hoping this year's version will not be subject to similar circumstances that would lead to such a tragic name.
So, my question to you, friends, is do you know about the Kentucky Derby? Do you have a party? Do you watch? Do you care? Do you bet on it? Do you wanna go? (My upstairs would cost half of what you'd pay for a hotel this week, I promise!) If you were going to bet, which horse would you pick?